The rain-god’s grace (invocation – part 2 of 2).

Prerequisite: The rain-god’s grace (invocation – part 1 of 2).

It’s truly astonishing how many different ways there are to invoke the rain – and these are just the practices devoted to one form of God alone!

Picking up where the last post stopped:


Cow Dung: (Examples provided in past posts.)

In my earlier post on Holi – which of course you’ve read eagerly and remember in full detail – I mentioned the practice of Gobar Holi, played with cow dung instead of colours in times of drought. Also from north India, in Punjab, cow-dung is used to bring rain: the village girls pour water over an old woman, and she then gives them cow dung dissolved in water. Another rite, stranger still, is done in Madhya Pradesh, where two upside-down wall-paintings are made with cow dung, to embarrass Indra and Megha into giving rain.

These practices are startling to Westerners because we usually associate excrement with filth; however, cow dung has tremendous practical and ritual value, and is anything but “dirty.” Moistened cow dung is spread as wall-plaster and flooring, and has much-needed antiseptic and insect repelling properties. When the dung dries, it has only a faint grassy smell, and serves to fertilize fields and fuel both ritual and mundane fires. Hindus revere Cow as a completely pure being, and nothing of her can be unclean.

In the holy Vedas, Cow (Go) is a complex and beautiful symbol, and if I elabourate fully on this idea, I’ll never finish this post! Just a few of these associations are light, spiritual victory, the universe, heaven, prosperity, the rivers and the rains, and most importantly for our discussion here, the Earth.

The Vedic goddess Aditi is the mother of seven (or eight) Devas, who are named collectively “Ādityas” after her. She is identified with the Earth and is directly called “Aditi the Milch-cow” in Ṛgveda I.153. Indra is one of these Ādityas, one of her children; he is called by the epithet “Bull” countless times, and identified with Bulls and Cows in many hymns. Besides the heavenly Indra and the earthly Aditi, the fertile mother and the strong child, Cow may also represent the fertile land, the rains, and the life of the people:

“To the God goes with prayer the Cow who hath Parjanya for her lord.
Agni hath entered into thee; Soma, O Cow, hath entered thee.
Thine udder is Parjanya, O blest Cow; the lightnings are thy teats.
Thou pourest out the Waters first, and corn-lands afterward, O Cow.
Thirdly thou pourest princely sway. O Cow, thou pourest food and milk.”
Atharva Veda, X.10.

Just as food strengthens the physical life, and ritual builds the spiritual life, Cow is both the symbol and the reality of prosperity, because all of her gifts serve to increase physical and spiritual welfare. In this case, her dung serves to fertilize the soil, and thus increase the Earth and support the life of all beings. So the use of gobar in any sort of agricultural ritual is singularly appropriate.
And because dung falls upon soil, resembles soil, and eventually becomes soil, my thought is that wetting the dung imitates, and thus evokes, the fall of the rain upon that soil.
I have to admit, though: the custom that I still find perplexing is the crafting of upside-down paintings. Unless the Devas are cow-dung-art critics, why would this serve to “embarrass” them? Any ideas? Is there a specific cultural reference I’m missing?

Water (Milk, Etc.): (Examples: Praying for Rain in Drought-Hit Jharkhand and Causing rain with ancient Vedic rituals)

Merely using water in a drought-ritual may itself be an offering and invocation. The practice shows a profound trust in the Deva’s providence, and also gives a gift that is far more precious for its intense need.

In some places, simply the pouring suffices; in Gujarat, for instance, the town’s rich trader walks through the city, pouring out milk to please Indra. Elsewhere, more effort is required: from Delhi, there is a video online of a man rolling on the ground, asking for water to be thrown on him and singing a rain-song to Indra. Meanwhile, in some south Indian villages, flowers are plucked, put in a basket, and taken around to every house by a priest; the women pay respect to the priest by touching his feet, the priest showers the ladies and the home with flowers, and then the women pour water over him. Another, more exhausting ritual is performed by priests, who chant Veda while standing for hours in neck-high water; this rite was photographed in 2008 but has been recorded earlier as well, as this excerpt from the September 1898 volume of Folklore journal shows:

“The wealthy merchants of the town of Puri, in Orissa, the zemindârs (landowners) and the mahâjans (bankers), lately raised Rs. 700 among themselves, and entertained the services of twenty-one Brâhmans who enjoy the reputation of special sanctity and are versed in the Vedas, to appeal to Indra, the god of rain, to avert the impending famine and scarcity. It was a curious sight to see so many Brâhmans standing in water up to their necks, singing the Vedas and praying to Indra to give rain soon.”

Sometimes, another rite is performed which is “tied” in with clothing made of greenery. (Clothing again! Indra the Fashion-Conscious?) A young girl in Bihar dons a dress of knitted vines and branches, dances through the village and stops at every house. Each host pours water over her, drenching her completely. Children are sent out in Maharashtra, with neem leaves tied around their waists. The use of green plants could represent life and growth, and prayers for the same, or they might invoke protection and relief thus:

“Let fruitful Plants, and fruitless, those that blossom, and the blossomless,
Urged onward by Bṛhaspati, release us from our pain and grief;
Release me from the curse’s plague and woe that comes from Varuṇa;
Free me from Yama’s fetter, from sin and offence against the Gods.
What time, descending from the sky, the Plants flew earthward, thus they spake:
No evil shall befall the man whom while he liveth we pervade.”
Ṛgveda X.97.15-17.

Similar rites are practiced outside of India as well. The Circassian (Adyghe) people have an ancient ceremony called the Hantseguashe – the “Puppet Princess,” who will be carried through the village by children that announce everywhere, “We are bringing the Hantse Guashe, our God please bring rain.” The villagers throw water or milk upon the image, while answering with the refrain prayer, “Our God please bring rain.” You can see the children and the Goddess in this film clip and hear the rain-songs here. The custom also exists among the Romanians as the Păpăruda, which you may both see in photos and hear.

Among both peoples, the dancers and/or children represent a Goddess, but it is the rain God who is called and thanked for the rain. Indeed, the Romanian word păpăruda (rain-call) is related to the god Perkons or Perun (either Indra or Varuṇa, depending on your interpretation).
In the Circassian rain-songs, the second of the two pieces is an invocation to the divine rain-bringer Eleme (or Elijah); he is also referred to by the names Ilia and Wacilla, the latter of whom has many features in common with Indra. That same song contains the interesting {translated) lyrics, “They have given the grey-eyed lad whey for a drink…it is raining.”
And milk – sweet, soured, or both, given alone or mixed with Soma – seems to appear, in the texts, more as an offering to Indra than any other Vedic Deva.

Whether in India or outside of it, whether using milk, water, or flowers, the ritual of showering and being showered in return is imitative magic at its loveliest, and a bit of a poke to the recalcitrant rain-Lord, too. The practitioner gets the blessings flowing, drenches others to be drenched back, and gives a gentle reminder to the sky to join in with the bounty-giving as well.

Anger/Battle: (Example: Brief clip from the Perang Pandan, in Bali.)

Indra the warrior, Indra the rain-giver: by invoking one of his aspects, might the other be stirred to action? These rites underscore, more than any other, exactly how familiar Indra is to those who worship him, and also reveal the Deva’s seemingly contradictory nature: he is the spark of life and the protector of children; he is the warrior and slayer. Consider also the perverse bravery in performing any ritual deriding God, in ritualistically fighting back – particularly in a region like Orissa, where lightning-strike deaths range into the hundreds each year.

Sometimes the “battles” fought for rain are relatively innocuous. In Punjab, girls carry a pot full of filth and put it in front of a woman known to have a bad temper; if she gets angry and becomes abusive, her rage will bring a downpour. And in Maharashtra, pairs of boys will fight a “good fight” with slings and stones, as an “entertainment” to the rain-gods.

Perhaps the most interesting of the benign ritual fights is the yearly “war” called the Perang Pandan or Mekare-kare, fought among Indra’s “chosen people” in Bali, the indigenous folk of Tenganan village. The men use weapons of bundled pandan leaves to fight each other, in pairs, to invoke Indra’s protection, bounty, and of course, rainfall. Though they fight, each man’s blood is to be his willing and even joyous offering to the God. So anger is specifically to be avoided, and a fight will be stopped if either man shows signs of rage. Thus is the dual Deva is honoured in a dual way: by fiercely warring villagers, amidst smiles and laughter. Other video clips, besides the one above, may be found here and here, and a much-longer excerpt with some gorgeous gamelan music here.

Sometimes, however, the Deva is the object of insult or even direct provocation. I wonder if this started a long time ago indeed: While the point of Govardhana Pūjā (north India, by the way) was of course not to end drought, the rains certainly came nonetheless (AND HOW), by simply not worshipping Indra at all and thus really pissing him off. So, there is an ancient precedent, of sorts, to suggest that making Indra angry is an effective rain-rite!
Much more recently, in 2001, a group of angry villagers in drought-stricken Orissa continued that peculiar “tradition,” venting their frustration and displeasure by killing Indra off! A village youth was dressed as Indra, “laid to rest” on a cot, and all of the funerary last rites were performed for him. Then the villagers took the boy to the funeral grounds, replaced him with a straw effigy of Indra, and set that image on fire.
(Unfortunately, I have no information on whether this sort-of “anti-yajña” ritual worked, but I had to wonder about “killing” the Deva who is hymned in the Vedas as the one who preserves, enjoys, fulfils, and embodies the very soul of sacrifice! He already has offered himself into the very fire of the universe; it doesn’t seem truly an “insult,” to burn him.)

In many Vedic hymns, the rain is held back by demons (particularly the notorious Vṛtra), and it is the valorous Indra who defeats them and releases water to the world. So the worshipper who performs these rituals may align himself with, or give himself to, the warrior Indra, to bring rain as he does…or he might also use war to drive away or assassinate the one who has brought no rain.

Music/Dance/Drumming: (Examples provided throughout this section.)

“Do thou, O drum, sound the first sound, ring brilliantly over the back of the earth!
Open wide thy maw at the enemies host; resound brightly, joyously, O drum!
Between this heaven and earth thy noise shall spread, thy sounds shall quickly part to every side! Shout thou and thunder with swelling sound; make music at thy friend’s victory, having (chosen) the good side!
Manipulated with care, its voice shall resound! Make bristle forth the weapons of the warriors! Allied to Indra do thou call hither the warriors; with thy friends beat vigorously down the enemies!”
Atharva Veda V.20.6-8.

Drums resound with battle and victory; they echo the sound of thunder; their beats may even sound like falling rain.

Several sorts of music are also associated with Indra as rain-giver. Many songs are sung to him, including Haali-huli barshun Inder devata in Bihar, and in Orissa, Inder rajar mausi maru and Benga mundaresindura dhalipaka Indara*. Certain rain-bringing rāgas are also played to him in times of need, the “Megha” and “Miyan Malhar” in particular. One of the most beautiful renditions of the Megha I have ever heard is played upon the flute here. Indeed, flute music in general is a very appropriate offering to Indra who loves song: in the Śiva Purāṇa, it is recorded that on the wondrous occasion of the very first Śiva Pradoṣam, when the Devas came together to give music to Lord Śiva’s dance, Indra was the flute-player.

(*I am actively searching out lyrics and melodies for these songs; please do comment on this entry if you know them.)

Indra himself is a transcendent dancer – both graceful and lovely, and fierce:
“O Indra, Dancer, Much-invoked! as thy great power is unsurpassed,
So be thy bounty to the worshipper unchecked.
Most Mighty, most heroic One, for mighty bounty fill thee full.
Though strong, strengthen thyself to win wealth, Maghavan!
O Thunderer, never have our prayers gone forth to any God but thee:
So help us, Maghavan, with thine assistance now.
For, Dancer, verily I find none else for bounty, saving thee,
For splendid wealth and power, thou Lover of the Song.”
Ṛgveda VIII.24.9-12.

“At the noise of the beat of the feet when Indra disports himself, and at his shadow, our enemies yonder, that comes in successive ranks, shall tremble!
The whirring of the bowstring and the drums shall shout at the directions where the conquered armies of the enemies go in successive ranks!”
Atharva Veda V.21.8-9.

The Nātyaśāstra is believed the “fifth Veda” by some, for theatre is able to convey knowledge to all men alike, and this treatise on stagecraft tells us that Indra’s flag-festival was the occasion, and Indra’s victories the subject, of the very first theatre performance. But before that inaugural show could even start, demons – who certainly did not want to see the Devas’ actions celebrated – barged into Svarga and tried to stop the performance. Indra drove them away with his flagstaff, and since then, that staff or jarjara has been raised and worshipped before all dance-performances. And so of old, and still today, Indra is sacred to dancers, and is the patron and protector of performers and the stage itself.

Perhaps this jarjara is the reason that the rain-dance of Bihar is called the jhijhia; in times of need, the women come together and sing, dance, and play music for Indra, with deep devotion. As with many other rites described in this post, some lovely (and helpful!) clips are available online; here is one example.

And speaking of the Internet, there is one final and unusual “ritual” for rain that has come of our modern times:

Online Worship: (Example: Thank god, it’s rained)

In 2002, the Times of India offered participation in an “online yajña” to readers wishing to pray Indra for rain, setting up a forum for readers to post their requests. The Internet has also been used to mobilize worshippers worldwide for help, as in this call to prayer in 2007.

Again, there’s a singular appropriateness here that might not have been originally intended: the Deva of lightning is also the ruler of electricity, so perhaps using computers as the messengers and media of prayer in this electronic age is not so unusual at all.

I conclude this post with a little joke on myself, for it seems a bit funny that – despite now knowing about ten thousand ways to call Indra for rain, and despite loving rain such that I am unable to stay indoors during even a drizzle – I personally, deliberately avoid asking the Deva for rain except in cases of serious drought somewhere else. In my next and final post regarding Indra as rain-god, I’ll discuss a little about why this is so, and also offer some conclusions and ideas that I hope will tie together all of this information.

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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